If you are one of the 92% of Americans with an email address, you are likely familiar with email marketing. It is a tried and true marketing strategy that delivers a superior return on investment compared to other digital channels. However, when healthcare organizations want to utilize these strategies, out-of-the-box solutions are not a good fit. Healthcare organizations must utilize email marketing platforms specifically designed to meet HIPAA’s unique privacy and security requirements.
When Do You Need a HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing Platform?
Healthcare organizations are required to use a HIPAA-compliant email marketing platform because their messages often contain electronic protected health information (ePHI). This includes information that is both individually identifiable and relates to someone’s healthcare.
Individually identifiable information includes identifiers like a patient’s name, address, birth date, email address, social security number, and more. By default, every email marketing communication includes the patient’s email address and is, therefore, individually identifiable. Not only does the definition of ePHI cover people’s past, present, and future health conditions, but it also includes treatment provisions and billing details. This information is often contained in email marketing messages.
While the law does not cover anonymous health details or individual identifiers sent by themselves, you must be careful and abide by HIPAA regulations when the two are brought together. You will need a HIPAA-compliant email marketing service whenever you send ePHI. As we will see, even if you think an email may not contain ePHI, it is still best to be cautious.
Types of HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing Communications
An excellent example of an email blast that must comply with HIPAA is a newsletter sent to a clinic’s cancer patients. At first glance, the email doesn’t contain any specific PHI. It doesn’t mention Jane Smith’s chemotherapy treatments, other specific patients, or their medical information. However, upon closer look, it may violate HIPAA regulations.
Every email in this campaign contains a personal identifier- the patient’s email address. In this example, only cancer patients received the newsletter, which also tells you personal medical information. A hacker could infer that anyone who received this email has cancer, which is ePHI and protected under HIPAA. If you use a medical condition to create a segment of email recipients, the email campaign must comply with HIPAA.
Sometimes, it can be challenging to identify if an email contains ePHI. If you sent the same practice newsletter to a list of all current and former medical clinic patients, it may or may not contain ePHI. Even if the newsletter contained benign info about the practice’s operating hours or parking information, if the practice is centered around treating a specific condition like cancer or depression, it may be possible to infer information about the recipients regardless of the message.
There are a lot of gray areas, and it can be difficult to determine if an email contains PHI. We recommend using HIPAA-compliant email marketing for any promotional materials to reduce the risk of violations.
The Benefits of Using a HIPAA-Compliant Marketing Platform
After reading this, you may think the answer is to avoid sending PHI in email campaigns. However, by keeping your communications bland, generic, and broadly targeted, you miss out on significant opportunities to engage your patients.
Using a HIPAA-compliant email marketing solution, you can leverage ePHI to send much more effective messages. In the above example, cancer patients actively receiving treatment at your clinic are much more likely to be interested in your business updates. Targeted emails receive much higher open and click rates than those sent to a general list.
Sending the right information to your patients at the right time is an effective patient engagement strategy. Think about it using an e-commerce example- when a retailer sends you product recommendations based on past purchases; they use your data to influence future purchasing decisions. By utilizing patient data to create highly relevant and personalized campaigns and offers, you receive a better return on investment in your efforts.
What is Required for HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing?
Finding the right HIPAA-compliant email marketing platform can be challenging. Most of the common vendors aren’t HIPAA-compliant at all. Others claim compliance and will sign BAAs to protect your information at rest but still will not enable you to send PHI via email. Finding a provider that suits your business needs and protects the email messages requires careful vetting.
Generally speaking, a HIPAA-compliant email platform must meet three broad requirements:
- The vendor will sign a Business Associates Agreement that outlines how they will protect your data and what happens in case of a breach.
- The vendor protects the data at rest using appropriate storage encryption, access controls, and other security features.
- The vendor protects messages in transit using an appropriate level of encryption with the proper ciphers.
Thankfully, LuxSci’s Secure Marketing email platform has been designed to meet the healthcare industry’s unique needs. Our platform was built with both security and compliance at the forefront. With Secure Marketing, organizations can send fully HIPAA-compliant email marketing messages to the right patients at the right time and receive a better return on their marketing investment.